Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Look...Up in the Sky!

It's hard to tell for sure, but I'm guessing the picture on this card is another airbrush job:

Card #622 -- Larry Hisle, Minnesota Twins

In fact, I'm pretty certain of it. Larry Hisle spent the entire 1972 season in the minors and was traded to the Twins well after the season had ended. He had last come up with the Phillies in 1971, and had gone from Philadelphia to the Dodgers and then the Cardinals in the meantime. However, he was an excellent hitter in the minors, never hitting below .300. It was only a matter of time before he found a team that could use him.

He found that home in Minnesota. Showing his unique blend of power, speed and a patient bating eye, he was a threat...even if few noticed it at the time because of his small-market team. By 1977, he was named to his first All-Star team and led the league in RBIs. However, he decided to test the free-agent market and went to Milwaukee the next year. After a promisng first season with the Brewers that saw him drive in 115 runs and make another All-Star team, he tore a rotator cuff early in '79 and wasn't the same player after that. He was limited mainly to a part-time DH from then until 1982.

After he retired, Hisle became a hitting coach. During his tenure with teh Blue Jays, he was part of two World Championship teams and helped his batters John Olerud, Paul Molitor and Roberto Alomar finish 1-2-3 as the league's best batters in 1993.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Waiting For the Ruling...

This is a great game-action shot. Darrell Chaney has slid into third home, with the ball arriving at the same time and the tag applied. As the umpire prepares to make his call (and since his hand looks like it's making a fist, I'm willing to bet Chaney isn't going to like it), you can see the hopeful look that he's giving, hoping the umpire didn't see the tag applied:

Card #507 -- Darrel Chaney, Cincinnati Reds

Chaney had come up with the Reds in 1969 and was mostly used as a backup for Dave Concepcion at short. He stayed around long enough to get a World Series ring in 1975, and then was traded to Atlanta. Since Concepcion wasn't going anywhere, Chaney was given a chance to become an everyday player with the Braves, and he responded by posting the best year of his career.

Unfortunately, he wasn't able to hold on to the job for long. Another one of the many prototypical good-glove/no-bat middle infielders of his era, he eventually lost out among competition from two younger players and was released in 1979. After his playing days, he was an announcer on TV and radio for the Braves.

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Moment of Levity

Candid shots are cool. Pictures that show the way players seem to be enjoying themselves before focusing on the game situation are cool. The ivy covering the Wrigley walls is cool. Here's a picture that shows all three:

Card #440 -- Glenn Beckert, Chicago Cubs

The catcher is Duke Sims, before he was traded away from the Dodgers. Since he only played in Wrigley for two games that season, this photo was taken either June 5 or 6, 1972. 1972 was the last of four straight years Beckert was named to the All-Star team, so at the time of this photo, he had every reason to be least until that umpire makes a questionable call.

Beckert's time in Chicago was predicated by a tragedy. When Ken Hubbs was killed in a plane crash in 1964, Beckert's minor league development was sped up. He finally came up in 1965 and was quickly made into the Cubs' starting second baseman. In all, he spent nine seasons at that position for the Cubs. He was a decent hitter and a very tough player to strike out. In fact, he led the league for the fewest strikeouts five times and was in the top three every year between 1966 and '72.

1973 would be his last season in Chicago. When Topps issued Beckert's card in 1974, he was still wearing his (non-airbrushed) Cubs uniform, but was one of the players who were available as either San Diego Padres or Washington N.L. He became a utility player for San Diego, hanging it up when he was released early in the '75 season.

After his playing days, he became a commodities trader. He's still well-regarded by the Wrigley faithful.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Dune Buggy...

Despite his exploits as a reliever, Danny Frisella will probably be remembered for an unfortunate accident that ended his life:

Card #432 -- Dan Frisella, Atlanta Braves

The photo on this card was obviously picked for maximum effect, as Topps didn't have a picture of Frisella in a Braves uniform. He had been traded by the Mets (where he had played his entire career) after the 1972 season. However, the low-angle shot obscured his hat to the point an airbrush artist would not be needed to "correct" the logo or even the cap color.

Frisella had come up with the Mets in 1967 but struggled as a starter and spot reliever. In 1969, he would spend most of the season in the minors and missed the team's miraculous Series win that year. In 1970, he finally earned a spot in the bullpen. After spending two seasons with the Braves, he pitched for the Padres in '75 and split '76 between St. Louis and Milwaukee.

On New Year's Day 1977, Frisella was driving a dune buggy on a county road outside Phoenix. He lost control of the vehicle and it turned over. The accident killed him. He was only 30 years old, leaving a wife and 3-year old son.

Monday, June 20, 2011

A Missing Trophy

Wherever he went, his teams were often in contention. In fact, his final three years ended with trips to the World Series with three different teams:

Card # 384 -- Don Baylor, Baltimore Orioles

Here's Don Baylor taking a cut at the plate. Since he's wearing a home uniform, I'm going to guess he's at the old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore rather than at Spring Training.

1972 was Baylor's first full season in the majors, and he was named as a member of the '72 Topps All-Star team. It even says so on the back of this card. However, Topps never bothered to put a trophy on the front.

He became known as a person who got plunked a lot. When he was playing, he was given the credit as teh player who had the highest all-time hit by pitches mark (despite the fact that two 19th century players had more; some statisticians like to point out that the game was "different" then and use that to discount most pre-1900 records except for Cy Young's wins). Craig Biggio eventually passed his mark in 2006. Baylor led his league in the category eight times.

We was also named the A.L. MVP in 1979 after leading the California Angels to the first postseason series in franchise history. He came to the Angels as a free agent in 1977 after spending '76 in Oakland (he was one of the players traded there for Reggie Jackson). He would remain with the Angels through 1982 and another ALCS before becoming a free agent again. This time, he landed with the New York Yankees, a team that was loaded with talent but didn't seem to know how to stay in contention once September rolled around. That wasn't Baylor's fault -- he would hit over .300 for the only time in his career that first year in pinstripes -- but those weren't great years to be a Yankees fan.
In 1986, he was traded to Boston and finally managed to get into a World Series. He went one groundball to Bill Buckner away from a ring, but got another chance the next year when Boston traded him to Minnesota during their late-season stretch. This time, he won his ring when the Twins won the Series in dramatic fashion over the Cardinals. In 1988, he went to the Oakland A's and once again went to the Series to finish out his career.

After retiring, Baylor became a hitting coach. In 1993, he was tagged to be the very first manager for the Colorado Rockies. When he took that team to the playoffs in 1995, it was the first time an expansion franchise had ever made the postseason in its third year. He held that position until 1998 and was the Cubs' manager from 2000 through 2002. He has continued to coach since his dismissal.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Utility Man Extraordinaire

Relegated to a "part-time" role because he wasn't effective against left-handed pitching, this player notched a few highlights but never really stood out:

Card #327 -- John Lowenstein, Cleveland Indians

That is, with the Indians and later the Rangers. When Texas left John Lowenstein unprotected in 1978, it appeared his days as a weak-hitting utility man were over.

He was picked up from the waiver wire by the Baltimore Orioles before the 1979 season and became a very important cog in Earl Weaver's machine. While he was anemic against southpaws, he would totally destroy right-handers, and that made him perfect for Weaver's platoon system. In the process, Lowenstein helped the team win two pennants and one World Series title. He would remain with the team until early in the '85 season.

There are a few interesting facts about Lowenstein. First, he was picked up by the Blue Jays in the draft but never managed to play for the team. He was eventually traded back to Cleveland. He also holds a share for the all-time record for the number of positions played while hitting a home run (Rex Hudler is the other record holder, and I'm willing to bet most fans couldn't come up with either of those names if asked). He hit a home run at nine different positions, including DH and pinch hitter.

Finally, Lowenstein was hit in the neck in 1980 while on the basepath by a thrown ball and had to be carried off the field in a stretcher. As he reached the dugout, he suddenly sat up and pumped his fists for the fans. Lowenstein was well-known as a free spirit, whose quotes were sometimes memorable for their creativity: when asked about how a designated hitter keeps in shape, he quipped, "I flush the john between innings to keep my wrists strong."

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Final Nail...

A few weeks ago, I opened an email from Tony Gillen, who runs another blog on the 1973 Topps set, 1973 Topps Baseball Set Builder. His blog is a little different than mine; while I like to focus on the sometimes goofy stuff that happens on the fronts of these cards, he shows the backs as well. Shortly after I began this blog, I discovered Tony's and hoped I wouldn't step on his toes or somehow overshadow what he does. Anyway, his blog is listed as part of my Blogroll and since there's a pretty good chance you're here because you enjoy the '73 Topps set, I say you need to check his out as well. Really. Check it out, I'll still be here when you're done.

Tony read something I posted a little while back saying I only needed one last checklist card to fill in the final slot in my binder.

Last week, this card arrived in a puffy envelope:

(No Number) Milwaukee Brewers Team Checklist

That said, Tony is awarded "Hero" status as the collector who sent along the last card I needed to finish off the set. Since only one person can ever give a final card, it's only appropriate I let my readers know about it.

The blue-bordered Brewers checklist is another one that fails to present a full lineup among the signatures on the front. George Scott is at first, Rick Auerbach is at short and Don Money takes third. Dave May, Joe Lahoud and Johnny Briggs take the outfield. Ellie Rodriguez takes his position at catcher and the rotation consists of Lockwood, Bell, Colborn,Slaton and Parsons. However, nobody seems to be covering second.

I guess Pedro Garcia had an appointment that day.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Here's the "Scoop"

Here's a member of what was then called the Pittsburgh Lumber Company:

Card #225 -- Al Oliver, Pittsburgh Pirates

Though Oliver spent ten seasons with the Pirates, I remember him from watching Expos games on CKWS-TV out of Canada in 1983. He and Andre Dawson formed quite a potent team in the lineup. As a Pirate, he hit the final home run at Forbes Field and then scored the first run at Three Rivers Stadium. He was also a member of the 1971 World Series champs.

Al Oliver was a solid player, which has largely been forgotten by many. Over an 18-year career, he hit at a .303 clip and picked up 2,743 hits. He was also a seven-time All-Star selection and won three straight Silver Slugger awards. After ten years with the Pirates and four in Texas, he spent the last few years bumping around the majors: he was in Montreal from 1982-'83 and spent the next two seasons with four different teams. With the last team (Toronto in '85), he would get two game-winning hits during the playoffs but the Blue Jays lost the series.

As it turned out, that A.L. Championship series would be the final games of his career. Al Oliver didn't return in 1986, and he claimed it was because he was one of the players targeted by the owners in a collusion, although it's been disputed. However, he ended his career short of the 3,000 hit mark and may have missed out for consideration to Cooperstown. He'll still have a chance to get in through the Veteran's Committee at some point, because his numbers are strong. It remains to be seen if they're still seen that way in the future.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Hail To "The Chief"

This player hold the distinction of being the 3,000th strikeout victim of both Bob Gibson and Nolan Ryan:

Card #156 -- Cesar Geronimo, Cincinnati Reds

Here he is standing in front of a batting net. I'm guessing it's a spring training shot...and I'm also guessing he just posed quickly for the camera since and pitch tossed toward him would end up going past the net.
Cesar Geronimo played from 1969 through 1983, with the best of those seasons as a member of the Big Red Machine. He was signed by the Yankees, who tried to turn him into a pitcher. After being drafted by the Astros after the 1968, he went to the majors and never went back down. He spent three years in Houston and came to the Reds in the same trade that also added Joe Morgan to the club.

Geronimo was a regular player in the Cincinnati outfield through 1979. He won two World Series and four Gold Glove awards during that time. After his playing time diminished in 1980, he was traded to Kansas City, where he spent the final three years of his career.

I had very little immersion in Spanish language before attending high school, so I pronounced his last name the same way I would the famed Apache (or the way paratroopers did in war movies as they jumped out of planes). Looks like others did as well; one of his nicknames was "Chief."

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Just a Couple of Pitches

What was working out to be a solid career was changed by a couple of badly-placed pitches:

Card #77 -- Mike Torrez, Montreal Expos

In 1973, Mike Torrez was beginning his third season with the Expos after four and a half years in St. Louis. He would go on to the Orioles  in 1975 and notch a 20-win season. He then went to the A's in a trade just before the '76 season began. he notched another 16 wins there.
He was a member of the New York Yankees in 1977, winning two games of in the World Series against the Dodgers. He inadvertently helped the Bronx Bombers repeat as the American League champs, but not as a member of the team. He went to the Red Sox as a free agent before the '78 season. When they tied with the Yankees, a one-game playoff determined who would go on to the playoffs, and Torrez was named as the pitcher. In the top of the 7th inning, Torrez tossed a pitch that Bucky Dent took over the Green Monster for a three-run blast.

In one shining moment, Bucky Dent had a new middle name among the Fenway Faithful, and another 16-win season by Torrez was immediately nullified.

Torrez would stay on the Boston staff through 1982 and return to New York in '83. this time, he went to Queens and played for the Mets. In 1984, he threw a fastball that accidentally hit Astros shortstop Dickie Thon in the face. Although Thon ended up playing through 1993, his career was permanently altered as a result of the beaning. He had been a highly touted rising star, but the injury cooled any talk of his going to Cooperstown.

Torrez, meanwhile, was released by the Mets after a poor start that season, and finished his own career with a short stint in Oakland.

Having an otherwise decent career defined by two pitches seems unfair. I'm sure Torrez would love to have those two pitches back if he could. But fate is a very fickle thing.

Monday, June 6, 2011

A Little "Pep"

This is an awesome example of 1970s style, even if the picture looks a little strange:

Card #580 -- Joe Pepitone, Chicago Cubs

Even though he spent three and a half seaons with the Cubs, Joe Pepitone looks strange to Yankee fans in a different set of pinstripes.

Pepitone was a member of the Yankees from 1962 through 1969. He was one of the last new members of the famed Dynasty years, and caused Moose Skowron to be traded to the Dodgers so he could take the first base job. However, Skowron won a Series ring in '63 against his old team, and Pepitone was the guy who made an error that let the winning run of the final game score. Jim Bouton mentioned him in Ball Four in a few funny stpries, saying he was vain and carried toupees to cover his balding head. The Yanks finally had enough of his antics and traded him to Houston after the 1969 season.

By the midway point of the 1973 season, Pepitone was no longer with the Cubs. Traded to Atlanta that May, he only played three games with the Braves before being released a month later. He then went over to Japan, where his name became slang. He would claim he was injured, but be found partying in nightclubs on days where he didn't have to bother going to work. Thus, his last name was slang for "goofing off."

Pepitone has had some very public problems in the years since he retired. He retuned to the Yankees as a hitting coach in 1982, only to be replaced by (then active player) Lou Piniella later that year. There were also some arrests for drunken driving and prison time for drug possession. He was given another chance by the Yankees after that, and still works for the team in a public relations capacity.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Give That Man a Helmet

A series of unfortunate baseball-related injuries shortened the career of this player:

Card #96 -- Doug Griffin, Boston Red Sox

Standing among several pieces of equipment including an unfortunately placed glove, Doug Griffin should have been extra careful to watch his step. As a "good field, no hit" second baseman, Griffin sure knew how to take his share of hits.

A couple of beanballs -- including one from fireballer Nolan Ryan in 1974 -- caused Griffin to have concussions and temporary hearing loss. Though he quickly recovered from both, his playing time diminshed along with his abilities afterward. He had been the regular second baseman for the Sox since 1971 and won a Gold Glove in '72, but the team acquired Denny Doyle before the '75 season to replace him as an everyday player. That season saw the BoSox get into the World Series, and Griffin contributed as a part-time player. He didn't get into the A.L. Championship series but made one appearance against Cincinnati in the Big Dance.

The Red Sox finally let him go early in the 1977 season, and Griffin left baseball altogether. He went into construction, a job that may not seem so tough to somebody who took one in the ear from Nolan Ryan and walked away.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Man Called Hondo

The back of this card states this was the biggest man in baseball. He certainly looks the part in this photo:

Card #560 -- Frank Howard, Detroit Tigers

Frank Howard was sold to the Tigers in August '72, so Topps obviously managed to get a late-season photo of him in his new uniform. Here he is in Milwaukee, waiting for his turn to crush the ball like it was a little bug.

He was almost the only player who ever hit a fair ball completely out of the old Yankee Stadium...but an umpire ruled the ball foul. Even Bobby Murcer -- the outfielder who chased that ball -- claimed it should have been ruled fair.

A two-sport star in college, Howard would be drafted by the NBA's Philadelphia Warriors, but instead took over for Carl Furillo in the Dodgers' outfield in Los Angeles. When the Dodgers swept the Yankees in the 1963 World Series, it was Howard who broke a scoreless tie in the final game with a shot to the Upper Deck in Dodger Stadium. However, he was a fourth outfielder by 1964 and dealt to the Washington Senators.

During his days on the roster there, Howard was also called "The Washington Monument" and "The Capital Punisher." The Senators were a perennial cellar-dwelling team, but Howard became a feared slugger there. By the late 1960s, his offensive numbers and batting eye had improved, and he was moved to first to ease the physical toll on his legs and knees. He moved to Texas with the franchise in '72 but his numbers dropped off. After finishing the season with Detroit, he remained there in '73 for his final major league season. In 1974 he went to Japan but hurt his back during his first at-bat.

After retiring as a player, Howard served as a coach and hitting instructor. He also did two stints as a manager, with San Diego in '81 and the New York Mets in '83. Both teams finished in last place, so Howard went back to coaching.